Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Community
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Compulsive Scalp Picking

I am 28 years old and have picked scabs on my scalp since I was about 12 years old.  Normally I find little imperfections, possibly dandruff or dry scalp, and I pick at it until it becomes a scab.  Once a scab develops, I find myself uncontrollably picking at it, so it usually never heals or takes an extremely long time or another scab to develop to stop.  Right now, I have a total of six scabs that I have created on my scalp.  When I am picking I can't necessarily say that it relieves stress like I have found on some of the other web sites, but more of an obsession that I can't control.  I have been treated for depression and PTSD, but have never mentioned my compulsive picking.  I have been prescribed both Zoloft and Prozac with Klonopin for the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but I still seem to pick at me head.  The kicker is that I also do this in my sleep.  I will literally wake up with blood under my nails.  What treatment options are there other than medication?  Should I tell my primary care physician or should I talk to a psychiatrist?  What are some of the causes of this, could it be OCD?  I don't really have any sort of rituals like you see or read about or extreme fears, but I can not seem to stop picking at my scalp, and although I am not pulling at my hair, I am noticing hair loss.  Any feedback would be appreciated.
374 Responses
Avatar universal
Christi, I had struggled with the exact same problem as you for almost 20 years.  Sometimes it would get out of control and I would get down on myself because I couldn't stop.  I thought it was all about my lack of will power.

I recently contracted a skin fungus on my back and face and in researching it came to find out that my scalp condition was associated with the yeast Malassezia furfur.  My doctor prescribed a pill that women take for yeast infections.  The medication combined with alternating use of Selsun Blue and Head & Shoulders shampoos has eliminated my problem.  For the first time in 20 years my scalp is clear and I don't have the urge to pick at it!  I have determined that it was not a test of my will power after all;  I simply had an infection that was never properly addressed.  

I know there is a lot of misleading and unhelpful information out there on this difficult to discuss topic and I hope this helps you to have a clear scalp as well.  Best of luck.

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P.S. here is some supplemental information on the subject http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seborrheic_dermatitis

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Wow! This is the first time that I have googled "Obsessive scalp picking" and I have to say, it is amazing to see how many people out there have this same obsession. My obsession is really bad. I pick and pick and pick. Especially when I am reading or watching tv. I get in a total ZONE. It is so soothing to me. I guess it is stress that causes me to pick. I have picked for years and years; since I was about 8. (I am now 26). I pick so much that when it is time to wash my hair, it burns. But I love picking my scalp after I have washed my hair. That is my favorite time to pick. It sounds weird, I know. My husband says I look like a monkey, always picking at my head the way I do. I try to stay cleear of wearing dark colors cause of the dandrif I create. I usually wear white shirts or light grey so the dandruf doesnt show up. I found that when I would wear acrylic nails that I would stop picking so much. Acryllic nails arent sharp enough too pick the way real nails can. It is less satisfying for me. I do suffer from depression and anxiety and am currently on 20 mg Lexipro and .5 mg Klonopin. But it doesnt help my obsession. I cant say that I am ashamed of this obsession. I really dont care if anyone knows. It is just a part of who I am ( I know that it is not normal!) However I dont go around anouncing that I have this obsession.
I figured that I couldnt be the only person in the world who does this, but seeing just how many people there are that have this same strange obsession makes me feel a little less weird!
PS- I was picking the whole time I was reading through all of these posts and I am going to continue to read on and pick on!
Avatar universal
I do this too! I even collect the scabs. Euuuuuuuch. I don't know how to stop this awful habit. Head and shoulders shampoo doesn't help, on the contrary, it makes my scalp even dryer and more tempting to pick
Avatar universal
I started picking my scalp around age 10 - I am 22 now - and never knew until today that there were others like me!  I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I'm a nervous person in general so it wouldn't surprise me at all if I had a mild form of anxiety disorder.  It really amazes me that I can be picking my scalp and not even notice it.  It's a gross habit because I do a lot of picking while I lay in bed before falling asleep, and my sheets and pillowcases get dandruff all over them.  :(  The other major time I get the urge to pick is while looking in the bathroom mirror.

I completely relate to what others have said about a trance-like state that occurs while doing this.  I remember my mom and grandma yelling at me for it as a kid, but I really couldn't stop.  

Has anyone had any success quitting this habit without drugs?  I have found it helps to keep my nails short, or to paint them so that I don't want to mess them up.  I have been able to stop for periods of a few months, but always start up again, usually after or during a particularly stressful event.  I really want to stop this, not just for myself, but because now I am seriously grossing out my husband!
Avatar universal
I'm surprised there are so many with the same condition as me.  I've had it since I was a child but have progressed now to pulling whole leathery scales from my scalp that I've caused due to the irritation.  It itches, then I dig into it.  Sometimes, I would take dental sticks to loosen the thick skin.  Now I have balding spots.

As I am afraid of taking psych meds to control this, I have to consciously tell myself not to do it.  Now I'm wearing 3 tracks of weave in my crown area.  I'm so disgusted at myself.  But I found that applying thick acrylic nails helps me control the nasty habit.  Also, when I see how I damaged my hair has become with a very patchy crown but near waist-length hair overall...just so disappointed.  The acrylics are back on my nails now.  If I don't scratch, it won't itch later.  To transition, I massage gently with a soothing hair oil and pamper myself.
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